In the BMX world, “Rockford” means two things: It refers to a stellar track in Illinois, USA, which hosts one of the ABA’s biggest races every summer. But increasingly, "Rockford" also is coming to be known for the sideshow to the race: a gathering of BMXers who are members of VintageBMX.com. The Rockford Gathering started out as a dozen guys swapping stories around a Bar-B-Q grill, and has grown into an annual destination for hundreds of the world’s most committed BMX historians. Now, every June, hundreds of BMX bikes of all eras, makes, and models are put on display for attendees to view, drool over, reminisce about, and generally incite passion for the sport of BMX. The passion that is evident in these old school guys is passed on to younger generations, who get the opportunity to learn that Oakley made grips before sunglasses, that frames could actually be Nickel plated, and that Haro is more than a bike brand – it’s the name of guy who steered the sport a lot of positive ways.
This year, the 9th Annual VintageBMX.com Rockford Gathering (or as we simply like to call it: Rockford) kicked off with a meet-and-drink at that American Institution known as Hooters. A good time was had by all, culminating in the Hooter’s staff leading the bar in singing “Happy Birthday” to BMX. Yeah, they’re not hired for their brains.
Friday brought a session at Rockford’s excellent outdoor skatepark by the guys who still ride. While there, Plywood Hood Brett Downs talked about his intention to start a magazine called “RODE”. Get it? Not “RIDE” but “RODE”? Point taken – there’s too many of us who are content to sit back and talk about the old days – there should be more of us still out there doing it. Props to those who did expend some sweat in the park and on the track this year.
Friday also means the Vintage BMX swap meet at the track. Levity was brought to the night when one of our members drove his RV rig into the middle of the swap area and got stuck in the damp soil. Just another thing to make the weekend memorable. After the swap meet, we convened at the Clocktower for pizza, drinks and Karaoke. But for some reason, everybody was too shy to sing – except for my kids. Wait – Natron and Krystina actually were kinda good. While the singing was lacking, at least everyone had a great time sitting around drinking and talking – and getting their picture taken with Mike Dominguez.
Saturday is what Rockford is all about. Our crew fills up about 2 acres of the park that surrounds the BMX track. Guys truck in from all corners of the USA with their collections. This year we were graced with the presence of Neil Clark (aka Subwax) from England, and also Warren “Waza” Eales from Australia (check out his awesome historical website at http://www.vintagemongoose.com/). The bikes are immaculate, and too numerous to mention. Follow the links to the pictures. The show did kind of come to a dead stop when our guest of honor, Woody Itson, showed up with his two display bikes. Woody is a pioneering rider who was truly innovative and influential in freestyle’s formative years. But apart from his riding skills, Woody is known for one thing: the Gold Plated Hutch Trickstar. This bike, along with the Futuristic Black Trickstar that Woody also used during this era, were on display in fully restored glory. And if you still thought the legendary Gold Trickstar was stolen and lost for good, well you should have been in attendance to hear the full story. It’s a bizarre, suspenseful and uplifting story, and reassuring to learn that there are people in this world who will do what they can to make things right. Hey, maybe there’s hope for me to get back my long lost Kuwahara.
Woody’s stories were shared in full at the Awards banquet, slide show style. Woody started at the very beginning, showing loads of photos that demonstrated how he started out like all of us, on the local dirt trails. From there he took it to the skateparks and the streets, amassing skills like over-the-fence-flyouts and 40-inch bunnyhops. If there were any racer-types in attendance who doubted our choice of guest of honor, I am pretty sure Woody’s 30-foot ditch jump pictures won them over. From his roots in Orange County, to stardom riding Hutch Trickstars all over the world, Woody showed how much fun can be had as a BMX professional. And on to today – Woody continues to promote BMX with teams performing on some of the biggest stages.
After Woody’s presentation, we got down to the business of handing out trophies. Claude Murphy, all the way from Louisiana, scored big with wins for both Best 70’s BMX (a Cook Bros.) and Best 80’s BMX (a display of practically every product Cook Bros ever made in the 80’s.) Best Mini went to Brian Page of New Jersey with his 1985 Vector Mini. Best Cruiser went to Cheesehead John DeBruin for his gleaming candy red 1983 National Pro. For the second straight year, Best Retro went to Ed Ferri of ColoredTuffs.com, this time for his 2008 Knight Industries Redline Squareback 24 (rolling on Skyway Tuff Wheels, natch.) Best Pit Bike went to Brian Pegausch for his mini-me of Woody’s bike, a gold-plated Hutch Trickstar pit bike created at C4 Labs. Juan Mattos and Jamie Jennison’s ultra-rare 1984 Free Agent Freestyle bike took home the Best Freestyle award, along with Best in Show.
After the awards, the ever-popular product raffle occurred. Tons of great product was handed out, thanks to the generous help of our sponsors: ABA, Hutch, Kuwahara USA, Redline, Supercross, SE Bikes, Action Graphics, DiamondBack, Profile Racing, S&M Bikes, BMXaddicts.com, C4 Labs, HaroFreestyler.com, ColoredTuffs.com, RetroBMX.com and MinnesotaFaction.com
So that’s a wrap on Rockford 2008. Click over to http://www.vintagebmx.com/community/index.php?act=idx and look for the Rockford BMX Collectors Gathering Forum to read more about it. While you are there, check out hundreds of old school bikes in the museum found at the top of the page.